Bruce and us, a band of brothers

jim.jenkins@newsobserver.comApril 23, 2014 

We named the group “Rode Hard, the band” as a play on the fact that our members were at the time of formation mostly approaching or in their 60s and above.

In a spirit of optimism, we ordered T-shirts, black with white lettering, and a matching banner with the band name, presumably to be hung up on the stage at shows. Or “gigs,” as the pros call them.

Though some members were struck in their youth with musical inspiration by Peter, Paul and Mary and others by the Beatles, and a few even played in what passed for rock bands, all now have united under the general category of “folk music and a little old timey,” played with acoustic instruments so as not to disturb neighbors, spouses, significant others or the Golden Retriever next door. For the stage, every Sunday afternoon, is a living room in West Raleigh.

Earlier in life, music was never abandoned, but love and work and responsibilities filled up the calendars. Guitars spent more time in the closet.

Tonight, several members of the group will be present at the PNC Center to bear witness to a contemporary, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen, 64, as he performs before a capacity crowd yet again. The show is set to begin at 7:30 p.m. and will conclude somewhere around three hours later.

A contemporary. Yes, there’s the inspiration indeed, that “one of ours” could perform the musical equivalent of a marathon with all the accompanying sliding about the stage and gyrations that come over a fellow for whom music is marrow. He may be a freak of nature, or simply someone who is gifted with exceptional energy and eternal youth.

But so long as he plays, we can believe that we can play, too. For there is, in us all, that dream, that fantasy if you will, that so long as Springsteen, Bob Dylan (72), Gordon Lightfoot (75), Paul McCartney (71) and Willie Nelson (80) are among us, maybe there is yet a chance. Compared to Willie, after all, we’re just kids.

One wonders how many who will be in the audience tonight count Springsteen as a maven, or the chronicler of their youth and now their late middle age. Did they feel for another as he did in “Thunder Road” or rebel in the belief they were “Born to Run”?

They cheer when he tells the stories of his upbringing, his youthful revolt, his father’s resistence to the piercing sound of his electric guitar. For the gift he provides is not in pyrotechnics or Gaga costumes or deafening roar or showmanship for its own sake.

No, it’s about identification, finding chapters of one’s own life in the songs and the banter. It’s about carrying on, for before he hit the covers of Time and Newsweek, there were moments of self-doubt when he surely wondered if he would be resigned to the bars of New Jersey forever.

Again, baby boomers, the contemporaries, understand. All had those moments of doubt: Had they chosen the right job? Did they make the right decisions about having a marriage and family, or not having either? Would they have a chance, and the courage, to chart another course should they realize the path they’d chosen was the wrong one, or at least not the one that would make them most happy?

All the questions are asked, though not necessarily answered, in this music, but the sharing of the questions is enough.

Springsteen resists, rightly, the role of pop culture deity. He plays his music, avoids pontification, appears to lack a sense of inflated self-importance, though he’d be entitled to it. He does have a sense of social justice, having used his concerts to gather money for food banks over many years. And, yes, his appearances on behalf of the campaigns of Barack Obama, his recording of “We Shall Overcome,” telegraphed his politics.

But for all the comforts of his lifestyle, he has remained true to old friends and seems to have a sympathy for less fortunate people, featuring in some shows since the Great Recession the plaintive Stephen Foster song, “Hard Times.”

Rode Hard plays that one every Sunday. This Sunday, for certain. If our contemporary would like to join us, we’d be happy to make a place. But no gyrations and sliding. That might make us dizzy.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com

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